At its core, speedrunning is about trying to beat a videogame in as little time as possible. There are massive communities for games both new and old, popular and niche, with the biannual “Games Done Quick” (GDQ) speedrunning marathon having raised over $25 million for various charities in the decade since it began.
Although most games require nimble thumb movements and incredible reflexes, some games can’t be beaten with a conventional controller. One such game is Ring Fit Adventure, Nintendo’s latest fitness experiment that requires players to physically run in place and complete real exercises in order to progress. And yes, people speedrun it.
Ring Fit Adventure launched on Switch in October 2019, and has sold over 2 million copies since, with shortages of the game resulting from increased demand due to worldwide stay-at-home orders and gym closures. It comes with a shoulder-length “Ring-Con” and knee strap accessories, which track the player’s arm and leg movements with surprising accuracy. You then run in place and complete a variety of exercises to progress through the turn-based role-playing game, using increasingly involved strategies alongside more physically demanding challenges. That added element of physicality means speedrunners need to approach this game differently.
In most games, the standard type of run tends to be “Any%,” in which players can use whatever glitches and exploits necessary in order to get to the credits as fast as possible. In Ring Fit Adventure, however, runners separate categories into “intended” and “unintended.” Intended runs require participants to perform whatever exercise the game asks of them. Unintended runs don’t have that requirement, meaning runners can squeeze the Ring-Con with their feet, move the Joy-Con up and down to simulate running, or anything else they deem necessary to reach the finish line. Given the intent of getting a workout, however, most runners go the intended route.
There’s just one other problem getting in the way of a full any% run: the runner’s own endurance. A “casual” (non-speedrun) run of the game takes around 30 hours, and even with speedrunning tactics, the world record for such a run clocks in at just under 13 hours.
Ring Fit Adventure might seem like a peculiar game to speedrun. Still, it has its passionate followers, and some of the top speedrunners on Twitch had hoped to see the game in the lineup for next month’s Summer Games Done Quick. The event takes place digitally due to social distancing guidelines, running 24/7 from Aug. 16 to 23 benefitting Doctors Without Borders. The humanitarian organization provides medical care and resources in countries affected by conflict, disease and famine.
One of those speedrunners is Sam Grezses, known as RobotsFightingDinosaurs on Twitch. He first played the game a few weeks before launch for review and started speedrunning it in December 2019. It’s the first game he’s ever been serious about speedrunning, and he currently sits at sixth place in his chosen run category, “Beat World 1; Intensity 30; Intended.”
Adam England, who streams on Twitch under the name Ventifier, held the world record for the any% category until early July, at 14 hours and 15 minutes, but his first attempted run took 19 hours. England treats these runs like marathons, doing one per month and runs in other categories in between. He takes occasional breaks through each run to eat and drink, but every second spent adds to the timer once it starts.
England noticed an increase in his stream’s viewership following the onset of the pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders. Those unfamiliar with the game and England’s unorthodox way of playing it came with plenty of questions.
“I’ve been asked: how useful is the game for exercise?,” England said. “Does it help you out? Does it work you out? Does it build your muscles? Is the game good? Is the game out? All the questions, pretty much.”
By its own admission, Ring Fit Adventure isn’t really about building muscle. Otherwise England and Grezses say the answer to all of the above tends to be a “yes.”
Even though both had been into physical fitness before starting the game, running Ring Fit Adventure has benefitted Grezses and England physically and even emotionally, in Grezses’ case.
In a piece for Polygon, Grezses wrote about how the game’s antagonist, a beefed up dragon named Dragaux who embodies the toxic elements of workout culture, contrasted with the game’s insistent message of pushing yourself to improve without beating yourself up over what you look like. This provided a voice of affirmation not present in any of his other workout regimens, which challenged his body dysmorphia.
Both runners applied to run the game for next month’s event, but the organizers chose not to schedule the run this time. We reached out to them for comment on how they decide which games to run, but they didn’t respond in time for publication.
Grezses was disappointed by the decision, but stated the frustration was mostly with himself, not the organizers. However, he still believes the game could be a joy to run, especially at a live, in-person event once they can safely take place again.
“It’s always fun for a speedrun to have a physical aspect too,” Grezses wrote through a Twitter DM. “[I]t’s satisfying to watch high level [Dance Dance Revolution] players, [Guitar Hero] players, or other games with odd peripherals… I can very easily imagine an audience counting reps along with the runner!”
England didn’t get into SGDQ either, but he will be running the game for other upcoming speedrunning marathons, the European Speedrunning Assembly on Aug. 2 and for the Benelux Speedrunner Gathering on Aug. 16. He too expressed disappointment, but stated the decision was a fair one, since the organization had upwards of 2,500 runs submitted for the marathon.
But they’re not giving up. Both plan to keep running the game for the foreseeable future, pushing themselves within reason to improve their times. However, Grezses stresses how he doesn’t want that goal of running Ring Fit for GDQ to get in the way of why he started running the game in the first place, which was to push himself physically while connecting with others doing the same in a fun and positive way.
“That goal isn’t a great one to have since I don’t have control over it. I could have been #1 in the world, and they still might not have picked me. The goal wasn’t based on my own personal progress, which was my mistake,” Grezses wrote. “I’m just excited to reapply after getting EVEN BETTER!”
Joseph Stanichar is a Paste intern.